Even though it is becoming more mainstream, homeschooling is still a very foreign world to most of us. Since I first became a secular homeschooler, I get asked nearly every day what it is like, why I do it, how I do it, and how I knew that it was a good choice for us. The truth is, I didn’t. At least when we started.
I had a whole list of my own reasons for homeschooling and I could easily see the potential advantages (and disadvantages). Yet, I still freaked out about it because it all just seemed so hard. Where does one start? After 18+ years of my own (not home) schooling, it was just hard to wrap my brain around doing things differently.
How did I do it? I read every book I could find on the topic as well as hundreds of blogs, websites and articles. I talked to my family and friends and most importantly, my husband and children. And I sought out advice from other homeschoolers. Here’s a list of 10 things you should be thinking about if you are thinking about homeschooling at all:
1. Why are you homeschooling?
There are many reasons to homeschool: values, flexibility, family-first, nutrition, customization of curriculum, academics, freedom, time, sleep and everyday joy to name a few. Take the time now to think about and write down exactly why you’d like to do it. It’s a heck of a lot of work, so you should have some really good reasons for doing it.
2. What is the law that applies to you?
I recommend starting with the Home School Legal Defense Association. They have several primers on homeschooling law and list the law and resources by state.
Next I would look at my state’s Department of Education website. They should have a homeschooling section and you may be able to find minutes from meetings where homeschooling is discussed. I have found them in my state and they are very informative on current issues surrounding homeschooling for families here.
I would also look for any homeschooling groups in your state, city or town that may give you more information. Know your responsibilities! Do you need to register with your state? What kind of records do you need to keep? Do you need to report at the end of the year? Do your best to comply with the law if you can. I hate to go all Spiderman on you, but with great power comes great responsibility!
Also, does your state have an equal access law? Ours does and it basically means my children have access to any classes and services the public school provides. We really like our school and the community and so we take advantage of the law by having my oldest attend extracurricular programs as well as library and a regular science program. Here is a state-by-state list of equal access laws.
3. What are your goals for homeschooling?
Are they social? Academic? Religious? A combination? Can you list 5-10 things you would like to accomplish your first year of homeschooling? Just a few of the things we hoped to accomplish our first year were:
1. Maintaining control of our day
2. Letting our kids sleep as much as they need to each day
3. Spending as much time together each day
4. Getting comfortable identifying as a “homeschooling family”. My husband and I have over 18 years of school each and so it has been a transition to opt out of the system
5. Figuring out where each of our kids are academically, their proficiencies and weaknesses
6. Figuring out our kids learning styles
7. Meeting or exceeding our state's requirements for our kids’ respective grades
4. How will you homeschool?
There are different types of homeschoolers and if you can see which group you identify with best it may help you to plan your lives. For example, Classical Homeschoolers are very different from Unschoolers. Most Classical Homeschoolers use a curriculum or books for each subject. Unschoolers don’t use a curriculum at all. Religious Homeschoolers are different from Secular Homeschoolers, obviously. And Eclectic Homeschoolers are a mix of any and all.
Do you want to re-create school at home? Where do you want your information to come from? Knowing what type of philosoph(ies) (there may be more than one) you fall into will inform how you spend your days.
5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I have come to believe that as homeschooling parents, our job is not just to teach, but to guide our kids through the world as they seek learning themselves. When they are interested in something, I think we should give them access to as much quality information about it as possible.
You cannot do that without knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. You may be able to help your kids with every subject. Or, you may feel uncomfortable teaching any on your own. Once you establish your comfort levels and abilities, then you’ll know where to ask for help.
Also, think about things like what your family’s daily needs are. If you need a lot of alone time, you are going to need to seek outside help because you will get frustrated with having your kids with you all the time. If you have a child who needs a lot of physical activity, you’ll need to figure out how to get that for them. If you need to work, you will definitely need to address how you will manage your time.
6. Where will you find support?
Family? Friends? Homeschool co-op? The internet? Are you and your partner on the same page? How will you take care of yourself?
I find most of my support in my husband and in books like The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, my state’s homeschooling coalition, the HSLDA, and from blogs like those of Penelope Trunk and Sandra Dodd.
The Well-Trained Mind is a classical guide to education but they have wonderful discussions and practical information about how to actually homeschool that I could not find elsewhere. They literally give you a plan to follow if that is what you need. Plus, there is a really great website with very thoughtful and active forums that go along with it. I don't think I would be homeschooling without Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.
Penelope Trunk is crazy. And entertaining. And a well-resourced, thoughtful, cogent writer. She makes me want to run out of my house and yell out to every parent that sends their kids to school to “STOP! STOP RIGHT NOW! YOU’RE MESSING IT ALL UP.” When we first told our friends and family and they were not supportive, I would go to Ms. Trunk’s site and read posts like this or this or this or this. And then I would feel better. And realize that sometimes, hell, most of the time, doing the right thing is hard.
Sandra Dodd talks about learning in a way that makes my cynical self think that there might actually be some real reason for joy and hope in the world. She is kind and thoughtful and if you sign up for her daily posts on Just Add Light and Stir, here, she will inspire you every day.
We started out as classical homeschoolers and are moving along the spectrum toward unschooling (although I don't think I can ever give up our beloved workbooks ;)). Right now we are eclectic but Ms. Dodd makes me want to unschool. And she makes me wish she was my mother back when I was school-aged too!
7. How will you deal with non-homeschoolers' curiosity and comments?
Some people are genuinely curious and that is great. Many others, though, may be very uncomfortable that you are rejecting something they are doing and so you may get some snarky comments or pseudo-questions.
This is something I am still working on. I am a reformed “eager to pleaser” and so I always feel like I have to explain to others when they comment. The fact is, you don’t. Most people don’t really want to know anyway. So, try to come up with a comeback like my husband, who very wisely just says, “There’s a lid for every pot”. It works every time!
8. Are there homeschooling groups or extracurricular activities that you can join?
We dabble with our various homeschooling groups because all of them have a deeply religious component and so are not a perfect fit for us. We have found more in common with friends who share common interests as opposed to those who also happen to homeschool. And so we spend most of our time with friends doing activities after regular school hours.
It actually works out perfectly for us because it allows the kids to sleep until they awake naturally, to eat together, to plan our days together and to get “work” done before anything social kicks in. Community is important. Time is a commodity. Know where you want to spend your time so you don’t waste it.
9. If your children are already in school, when will you take them out?
Mid-year? End of year? How will you make the transition? I would encourage you to have a solid plan for making the transition and to include your child as much as possible. The more control they feel they have over the situation, especially if they don’t want to leave school, the better. Let them help you problem solve and plan. It will be your first homeschooling lesson.
10. How long will you homeschool?
My advice would be to commit to it for at least a year so that you will all have time to adjust and find your groove. Beyond that, I personally could not predict. I mean, we have had such an awesome time homeschooling. We plan to homeschool for the foreseeable future. But things can change and your kids and your family’s needs may change.
It is a lesson I have learned from having kids. Sometimes you just need to play it live and know that you can change the game plan if it is not working. Don't put too much pressure on yourselves!